Each December, I reflect on the year that happened in business and life. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to manage to do it this year because 2020 felt too big and awful on its surface level to tackle, and I'd already written a mid-year review in May. However, inspired by some year-end exercises in Simple and Season’s The Trail community, as well as recommended journaling prompts from Montana Pratt’s Preparing the Way and Susannah Conway’s Unravel Your Year, I discovered that there was a lot to uncover and learn just below the surface of 2020.
Word of the year reflections
For 2020, I chose voice as my word of the year, with connection as a secondary, supporting word. I expected voice to be the primary word for my business year. I expected to learn to express my voice as a leader and as an employer, to learn how to grow a team and scale my business. I thought that voice would be loud and ambitious and driven.
Instead, the word voice crept into my life more subtly than I anticipated. After all, it was the word connection that became so loud and urgent! With the pandemic and stay-at-home periods being so isolating, connecting to others was understandably top of mind for life and business.
I began to think that voice didn't really have a place in the new normal. But just as the pandemic brought forth a reimagining of habits and work and interaction, so did a new sense of voice--an inner voice--quieter and wiser and what I really needed.
This year, I deepened my trust in my voice and inner guide. A slower, quieter approach to business, art and showing up that felt more authentic to me and to Yardia's values. This voice didn't need to be the loudest one in the room, or the fastest to respond to a crisis, because what I valued more was thoughtful, deliberate action. Thinking through choices, a desire to experience first and speak later from that experience, and listening to the inner compass more than external trends or cacophony.
My voice came from being in alignment with my values, and because of this I could make it through the year with confidence that I was in the right place doing the right thing for me right now.
Fulfilling a dream
One of the earliest highlights of the year feels like a lifetime ago, which was choosing, at the last minute, to exhibit at the National Stationery Show as part of NYNow at the beginning of February.
Jumping into my first major trade show would have been a highlight in an ordinary year, but was even more so in 2020 since it was also my last experience with travel and flying for a while. Making it happen in a quick turnaround and seeing the benefits made me realize that it's something I’d like to prioritize in the future to make connections I can't create online.
Which leads me to my second biggest highlight, which is such late-breaking news that I’d originally written about it in the “challenges and pandemic failures” section of this year in review.
One of the connections I made at NYNow was with representatives from Zola. After the show, they reached out and offered a licensing collaboration to illustrate an invitation suite. I was thrilled and a little nervous about this opportunity and worked on it during the first month of lockdown.
After I finished the project and it became clear that weddings weren’t going to be happening for a while, I figured that perhaps this was a project that succumbed to the impact of the pandemic. But as I was writing this blog post, I checked the Zola website and saw that my invitations, the Atchison Suite in sunrise, sunset and night colorways, had, at last, gone live!
I’m so proud of this collaboration and the opportunity it gives couples to share a Pacific Northwest-inspired watercolor invitation suite to celebrate those future wedding plans that had been put on hold in 2020.
The data I was most curious to dig into was my business financial picture. Compared to 2019, in 2020 gross revenue (not including the PPP loan I received) went down by 4%. To break this revenue down further, numbers for my three usual income streams were (in comparison to 2019):
- Wholesale increased by 15%
- Online retail increased by 99%
- Craft shows and in-person markets decreased by 88%
And even though I earned less revenue on sales, my expenses decreased enough for net profit to increase by 39%.
A lack of craft show expenses (like registration fees, marketing materials, travel and more), the addition of revenue from new products I already had in stock (like seconds and original paintings), and tightening the budget in little ways across the board helped to reach this increase in profit. I learned that constant growth and scaling weren’t the only path to sustainability, and that deliberate and intentional decisions could help Yardia thrive just as well.
The next business model
Yardia’s main revenue streams shifted their allocation in the overall pie of the business. In 2020, wholesale made up 51% of revenue, online retail 44%, craft shows 4% and other (a few one-off projects and a tiny bit of bank interest) made up 1%. This compared to 2019's 42% wholesale, 37% craft shows and 21% online.
The biggest adjustment came from narrowing income streams down to two: wholesale and online retail. As for craft shows? I only participated in 3 in-person markets in 2020, compared to the 31 I did in 2019. And surprise, surprise, I found that I loved having weekends free instead of being booked up with markets. I loved digging in the garden, recharging, taking naps and having time to even do simple household chores without worrying about packing up my car to rush off to Fremont or Magnuson Park or Tacoma or South Lake Union.
And as much as I missed and appreciated the vendor community and the real value of receiving direct feedback from customers every time I participated in a market in the past, I didn't miss the physical and mental exhaustion that the intensity of markets left me with, or the time I needed to recover from them afterward.
So what's changed? Well, craft shows will no longer be a major part of my business model. If anything, in the next normal, I'll limit my market participation to a highly select few so that I can occasionally talk to customers and hear their feedback, but still maintain my primary focus on wholesale and online ventures.
Challenges and pandemic failures
Mindset and trusting the process were the biggest challenges to deal with in the uncertainty of the pandemic. Logically, I could see by my numbers and built-up savings that I'd survive the year, but I struggled, like all of us I imagine, to process the loss of what could have been.
Eventually I learned to use organization and strategy to create a sense of control and reassurance. Having a full understanding of my financial picture, mapping out how to make the numbers work for the short term and creating contingency plans and a 3-year recovery road map helped me to see how I could reach my goals of sustainability in ways I wouldn't have thought to do otherwise.
Shipping was another huge challenge this year. Once it started to look like the postal system was going to be having some major issues with shipping and delivery, I decided to close down my Etsy shop after a very early Christmas shipping deadline on December 3rd. December 3rd passed and my fears about shipping delays began to come true.
Although customers continued to be able to order through my main website (with extensive popups and notices about orders not arriving by Christmas), I'm guessing there were fewer complaints about missing packages than would have occurred if I hadn't been so vocally cautious about potential shipping delays and encouraging early holiday shopping. This early holiday break is something I'll consider repeating next year.
One of the joys of this year at home was that it gave me the momentum to tick off a lot of the little to-do's that I'd wanted to implement into Yardia, but never seemed to find the right time to do the research to make them happen. Here are a few of the tasks that got done at last:
Yardia began its giving program with 5% of gross revenue from the online shop donated to local non-profits, something I'd wanted to implement since I'd started the company. I knew what types of organizations I wanted to donate to, but I'd struggled with figuring out the logistics until I discovered a Shopify app to help me automate the process. You can learn more and see the total donations since I began this program about 6 months ago on the Shop For Good page.
Some other to-do's included making sure my website was up-to-date in GDPR requirements, creating carbon-offset shipping options, subscribing to an inventory management system to deal with multi-channel supply chain headaches, and spending a month digging into my email marketing provider's systems to create content that I’d been putting off. I invested in taking Me and Orla's The Insta Retreat and loved spending time diving into photography, branding and social media strategy. In late November, I started another learning program through Simple and Season's The Trail, but this was more in anticipation of my 2021 intentions.
The most unexpected extraOn a final personal note, one of the most interesting experiences I've had this year was becoming a volunteer participant in a COVID-19 vaccine trial study. In the spring, I'd added my name to a volunteer registry, and right around Thanksgiving I received a call asking if I'd be interested in joining a Stage 3 trial for the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) single-dose vaccine. After a lot of deliberation and research about risks, benefits and what this would mean for the next two years of my life, I decided to join and was scheduled for my first appointment in December.
At the initial two-hour appointment, I answered a ton of medical history questions, had all my own questions about the study answered, had a variety of tests and samples taken, and after one final consent, I was randomized into either a placebo or vaccine group and was given my injection.
Do I think I received a vaccine? I have no idea! I had a few mild symptoms that were in line with what I'd read other participants in this trial had experienced, namely some achiness on my arm, lethargy and fatigue. However, these "side effects" could have just as easily been due to my extra focus on how my arm was feeling, and maybe because I was just plain exhausted overall. So I figure I have a 50-50 chance of being currently vaccinated, and either way, I’m no worse off than I was before, and I’ll continue to wear my mask and track my health in the study's online platform.
Joining this vaccine trial has been one of the biggest things to make me feel a little less helpless in the scope of this whole pandemic year. It's a small way that I can serve science and humanity, connect to a solution on a global scale, and use my health data as my voice to represent other Pacific Islander Americans like me.
The trial has been one of the most unexpected ways I ended up aligning to my values and living out my words of the year, voice and connection. I’m glad to be a part of it, and to be able to end the year with a small dose of hopefulness.